This is a brief rant, not at you, my faithful readers, but to the Odd & Strange muse who wrested this story from my control and may cause some of you to turn away and never come back. Listen, Ms. O& S, this is not the story I envisioned nor the one that I spent hours writing. I started a story about the boys simply going to England and meeting their little niece. But you weren't happy with that; you wanted elements of sci-fi and portents of the future. You made me reorganize what I had written and turn it into some weird, almost experimental piece. I'll forgive you this time, but you have to stay in the corner until the next designated supernatural (S) story comes up, understand? Thank you.
Sorry about that readers, but it had to be done. Going on, this is a Family story so please read Shades of Black if you don't know what that means or I don't give you enough info in the story. References are made to the above story as well as Alone. Everything else should stand on it's own.
Hi. My name is Blair Sandburg and I'm having ambivalent feelings about... a teddy bear.
There. I've admitted it and I... I don't feel any better. I thought with confession was supposed to come a sense of relief, a lifting of a heavy burden as it were. But all I feel is silly. I should have known that old adages wouldn't apply to me. Nothing normal ever applies to me, especially since I became a Guide. No, that's nothing like a Boy Scout. I don't help little old ladies across the street or sell popcorn in front of the local discount store. As a Guide, I dodge bullets on a weekly basis, become targets for visiting psychotics, and dial a cell phone a lot.
I know you may be a bit confused. Okay, a lot confused. It sounds as if I'm an action hero with a fear of fuzzy stuffed animals. But that's not who I am. First and foremost, I am not an action hero. That title would go to Jim Ellison. He's my best friend, my partner, and a detective in the Major Crimes Unit of the Cascade Police Department. He's the one who hangs off of flying helicopters and fights bad guys atop of moving trains. Me? I'm usually on the phone calling for backup or in the hands of some killer, terrified out of my mind yet retaining enough sanity to stall for time until Jim can arrive and save my sorry ass.
You see, Jim is a Sentinel. That means he's genetically hardwired to have enhanced senses and he has this incredibly strong urge to protect his territory. Thankfully, that includes me because I'm his Guide. I help him with his special senses and in return I get information for my dissertation. Oh. I forgot to mention I'm an anthropology grad student studying Sentinels, didn't I? Sorry. I'm a little out of it at the moment. Anyway, I'm Jim's Guide and I live with him in this loft. No, no, no. Stop that idea right now. He has his bed and I have mine. We don't sleep together... Well, that's not quite true. Sometimes I have nightmares or one of us is sick... Okay, I guess I need to be blunt here. We don't have sex-- not with each other, I mean. We both like women which, considering the women we get involved with, isn't as healthy as that might seem. Oh, well, enough about that.
You're still wondering about this teddy bear phobia, right? Actually, it's not a fear of all teddy bears and I'm not even sure it's a fear. I used the word ambivalent, remember, and those feelings are directed toward one particular stuffed toy. Yes, that would be the one you see, sitting there on the sofa across from me. Pretty, isn't it? Give it a touch. One hundred percent, genuine mink. Yeah, a mink teddy bear. Don't that beat all? Of course, it cost a small fortune. But I didn't buy it; Jim did.
I know what you're thinking: a cop that can afford a mink teddy bear is bad news. But you're wrong. There isn't a more honorable cop in existence than Jim. But Jim isn't what he appears to be. He has a secret life-- no not the Sentinel thing. Sure, that's a secret too, but not from me. This is something that even I didn't know until only a few months ago. What? You don't want to hear this? You think I'm dodging the real issue? You want to hear about my fixation on this expensive teddy bear. Very well.
It all started with a phone call...
"Okay, sweetheart, don't cry. I'm on my way. Just hold on... No, I know I don't have to, but I want to. Can you hang on until then? I'll make it better, I promise... No more tears, okay? I'll be there soon... I love you too." Jim Ellison replaced the receiver and wiped his hand across his face, trying to get his emotions back where they belonged.
I perched on a nearby stool and waited rather impatiently for him to explain what was going on. Jim was already on the phone when I'd let myself into the loft.
"Chief, what do you know about postpartum depression?" Jim finally asked.
"Just enough to know you don't have it," I teased, then sobered when Jim didn't smile in response. "What's wrong, big guy? Who was on the phone?"
I instantly adopted my partner's concern. Arielle was Jim's "sister". If someone were to take a peek at Jim's personal file, he or she would read that Jim had one sibling, a brother named Steven. "Not close" was an understatement when describing the brothers. Their dad had pushed them into competition with each other to the point that they had had a fifteen-year estrangement. Only recently had they renewed their relationship and although they would never achieve the connection they should have had, at least they were once again speaking to each other.
Jim had left home as soon as he was old enough and in a desperate need to get rid of the family he had, he had been "adopted" into another. The Family, organized and founded by a man simply known as Father, was a huge organization that policed scientific research all over the world. It was also a collection of some of the most capable people on the planet. I thought "capable" was the best word to describe them; they were not only intelligent but warriors as well.
The Family was organized as a business. Father was the president and temporary CEO. That job would eventually belong to the Elder but at the moment the Elder was busy elsewhere. Then came the vice presidents, one on each continent. The vice presidents, along with the Elder, were considered to be siblings and as in a normal family, how well the members got along varied greatly. Arielle, head of European operations and Jim, the Elder, were particularly close. That was something I had only recently learned which was only natural since I had only recently learned of Jim's secret life as James, heir to the Family throne. It was a long story and I was still uncomfortable with what the Family did. The policing reeked of censorship and it bothered me how the Family thought they had a right to judge which research was viable and which had to be repressed.
Regardless of what I thought of the Family as a whole, I liked Arielle. Having grown up in a restrictive male-dominated Asian household, she'd joined the Army as a rebellion; if she had to take some man's orders at least she would get paid for it. But instead of finding the same restrictions, she found the ability to speak out and be herself for the first time. Her abilities got her noticed by Father and soon she was vice-president of Antarctica. The tragic death of one of the siblings several months ago moved her to Europe.
Six weeks ago Arielle had given birth to a daughter she had named after the two people she loved most in the world, her late mother and her favorite brother. Because he was recovering from a gunshot wound when little Jamie Lin came into the world, Jim had yet to meet his future goddaughter but I knew the baby already had him wrapped around her little finger-- the same as her mother.
"You think Arielle is suffering from postpartum depression?"
Jim nodded. "You should have heard her on the phone, Chief. She was crying, babbling something about the baby hating her, and begging me to let her kill her mother-in-law. The only thing which calmed her down was my promise to see her. Thanks to all those hours on the armor car heists, I had a free long weekend ahead of me anyway."
"She lives in London, man," I pointed out. It wasn't like Jim could hop in the truck and be at her house in a few hours.
"Yeah, I know. You coming?" Jim asked as he reached for the phone again.
I started to mention the improbability of being able to get a flight to London on such short notice, not to mention the cost of whatever seats that remained. Then I remembered to whom I was speaking. This was not Jim the cop. This was James, the Elder of the Family whose string of research facilities made them quite wealthy. If James wanted to get to England A.S.A.P., then so be it. "I'll go air out my suit."
When I returned, Jim was on the phone to Captain Simon Banks, our supervisor and friend. Although we weren't scheduled to work this weekend, it was mandatory that Simon was kept abreast of our whereabouts. In the modern world Sentinels and Guides had more responsibilities than their ancestral counterparts. Instead of a territory encompassing mere miles, Jim's "village" was a metropolis with dangers and enemies able to strike from a hundred places at once. He had to be constantly on guard, as did his Guide because the personal dangers to the Sentinel were also greater. The noise levels were higher, chemicals contaminated the air, food, water... So what was a modern Sentinel and Guide to do? Enter Simon Banks, Watcher. He filled in when and where necessary. When the Sentinel needed help protecting the Guide, when the Guide needed help protecting the Sentinel, or even when the Sentinel and/or Guide merely needed help just getting through the day, the Watcher was there, lending aid and support. Simon was our reserve, our source of strength when our own wells threatened to run dry.
Jim hung up and turned to me. "Get a move on, Chief. The limo will be here in about an hour." He went to get ready himself.
I shook my head, marveling at my chameleon-like partner. Jim wouldn't be caught dead riding in a limo (unless of course he was on his way to his own funeral-- but that would be a hearse, wouldn't it?). James, on the other hand, didn't think twice about limos or private planes or bodyguards... who knocked on the door of the loft fifty minutes later.
"Elder, the car is waiting below. I'm Marco. Todd and I will be escorting you and Mr. Sandburg to Dulles."
"We're flying into D.C.?" I asked as I adjusted my jacket. The Family liked to keep up a mafia-like facade, declaring that the dark suits and shades made their job all the more easier. I wasn't too fond of this dressing up part, but as an anthropologist I respected the adage of "when in Rome..."
"Sam has us booked on the Concorde," Jim explained as he glanced around the loft to make sure everything was locked. "It's going to be a close shave, but he says we'll make it."
"So when did Sam get bumped up to travel agent?" I commented as we made our way to the limo. Sam was what was known as an artificial intelligence, i.e. a computer pretty darn close to being capable of thought. The Family had confiscated Sam and kept him inactive until they were sure he could be controlled.
"He did so well interfacing with Cascade General that I figured he could be trusted to mix with other computers every now and again." Jim's jaw clenched as he remembered why Sam had contacted Cascade General. An old enemy of his had shot him, Simon, and me. "A review of his internal files showed that he had only downloaded information pertaining to the three of us. Sam understands limits."
"Sam wants to please you," I pointed out. The A.I. was completely devoted to the Elder.
"He's just a machine," Jim reminded me.
"Yeah, right." I was totally unconvinced. Sam wasn't "just" anything. The technology involved was highly sophisticated and the ramifications of a computer able to think for itself, able to reach out and interface with other computers at will, was definitely unnerving. But, instead of attaching itself to its creator like in sci-fi movies, Sam had formed a bond with Jim. And what was really strange, Jim didn't seem to mind.
The flight aboard a luxurious private jet was uneventful and Jim and I alternated between talking, napping, and doing assorted work; I had a few assignments to grade (I was a TA for a couple of freshmen courses) and Jim was going over some papers which had been waiting for the Elder when he arrived on the plane. After watching Jim peruse the papers diligently, curiosity got the best of me. "What you got there, Jim? Some big, bad scientist you guys have to put the screws to?"
Jim sighed, and I realized I could have been a little more tactful. "It's a dossier on Arielle's mother-in-law." I rolled my eyes. "Always know your enemies, Chief."
"She's not your enemy, Jim. She's just a mother-in-law and not yours at that. You and I both know Arielle is headstrong. They probably just clashed over the care of the baby. It happens, man. Let Bjorn handle it." Bjorn was Arielle's husband. They had gotten together when he had been a researcher at the Antarctic facility. I had met him when Father had been injured but he mainly stayed in the background and I really couldn't remember much about him.
"Apparently Bjorn is not doing a damn thing, so I guess it's up to me," Jim stated and I knew the matter was closed.
Sometimes I wondered why I wasted my energy arguing with the man. Jim in protective mode was hardly a rational creature. Besides, for once I wasn't the object of Jim's protection. Let Arielle feel smothered for a while, I thought with a wicked grin. Then I noticed Jim had put away the papers and picked up a book. I sort of turned my head over in order to get a look at the title. How To Take Care Of Baby -- A Father's Guide To Caring For His Infant. "Uh, Jim, is there something you're not telling me?"
"Did I bug you like this while you were trying to get your work done?" Jim asked wearily. The question didn't rate a remark."There was no book out there for new uncles, okay? So I did the best I could."
"We're going to be there a weekend, Jim. The baby has a nanny, mother, grandmother, and father to take care of her. All you have to do is make funny faces and go blub, blub, blub with your lips," I rationalized.
"That baby is named after me and she's going to be my goddaughter. I want her to trust me and for that to happen, I need to know how to handle her securely. And I will not go blub, blub, blub. We will hold intelligent conversations. Unlike what I'm having with you," Jim declared and raised his book to signal that the conversation which he had cast aspersions on was over. I laughed and went back to work.
"Elder," Marco said hours later. "We are approaching Dulles International Airport. William and Eric are advising that you be prepared to disembark immediately. The Concorde is holding pending your arrival."
"Thank you, Marco." Jim stuffed his papers and the book into a leather satchel. "Guess we better haul it, Chief, before several hundred people get angry with us."
"They're holding a whole plane for us?" I asked, knowing airlines were notorious for at least attempting to stay on schedule, especially international flights. "How?"
Jim shrugged. "Ask William." William was James' personal guard when he was acting as the Elder.
"Well, they weren't exactly holding for you," William explained as a luggage hauler zipped them toward the Concorde. "Their onboard computer malfunctioned briefly. But just as you landed, the problem cleared up."
"Sam," I said only loud enough for Jim to hear. Jim nodded, but didn't look concerned. "Don't tell me you approve?" I asked.
Jim shrugged. "She was crying, Chief."
Wondering why no one had ever done a conclusive study of the effect female tears had on the human male, I followed him into the plane and settled comfortably into first class. Sometimes having a friend with influence had its perks, I thought as I stretched out in the large seat. I watched Jim nod to the two bodyguards who accepted his assurance that all was well and sat down the row behind us. "Why do you have two bodyguards?" I asked. "Because you're the Elder?"
"I don't have two bodyguards," Jim said as the jet prepared for take off.
"There are two people sitting behind us, both apparently cleared and authorized to bring weapons aboard, correct?"
"And there are two people sitting in front of them, correct?" Jim countered.
"You mean?" I was shocked. Never once had it crossed my mind that Eric was for me. I knew Jim and the family considered me one of them simply because Jim had declared it so, but... "This is so cool, Jim. I thought you had to be important in the Family to rate a guard."
"You're important to me, Chief. That's high enough." He sighed and pierced me with one of his patented glares. "You aren't going to bug me all the way to England, are you? After all, I have some reading to do." I shook my head, deciding to give him a break. He took out his baby book and went about taking a crash course in childcare.
The quick study came in handy.
We were met at Gatwick by a Family limo (of course) and whisked to a castle in the English countryside. "I can't believe this is an actual castle," I said as I stood in the drive and stared at the structure in awe. "The Family doesn't do anything in half measure, does it?"
"Before you get that tone in your voice, Sandburg, let me tell you that this castle was just sitting here rotting away to rubble until the Family purchased and restored her. We even allow tours for scholars."
I knew how little by little key pieces of European history were being destroyed by lack of funds and lack of interest so I was pleased that the Family had managed to save something. But... "What tone, Jim? I don't have a tone."
"Oh, yes, you do. It's there every time you think the Family is offending your high moral standards."
"Well, I guess my standards are rather high compared to--" I stopped as the Sentinel raised his hand, signaling he was listening in enhanced mode. "What is it, Jim?" Instantly the argument was forgotten and I became the Guide. I looked at my partner and saw Jim's eyes had turned to a nice shade of ice. Oops. Someone was in big trouble.
The door was opened by the resident guard who had apparently been alerted to the Elder's arrival. However, it was obvious he hadn't bothered to alert anyone else because immediately I heard what Jim had: loud arguing and a baby's cries. Although the house was a maze of rooms, Jim unerringly went to the source of the noise.
I knew Jim was itching to yell, "What the hell is going on!", but at the last minute he remembered babies didn't like yelling and Jamie Lin seemed to be no exception. So he ignored the adults in the room and hurried over to the bassinet and peeked at the bawling infant. Gently, he scooped her up into his arms, careful to support her head like the book said. "It's okay, Jamie Lin," he whispered to her. "You don't have to cry anymore. Your Uncle James is here and he'll make everything better. I promise." The baby's eyes, which had been scrunched up as she cried, flew open at the sound of the unfamiliar voice. More than likely it was the mere curiosity of seeing a new face than it was Jamie Lin actually understanding his words, but for whatever reason, she stopped crying.
Now if Jim was angry when he assumed the three adult occupants of the room had been so busy screaming at each other that they hadn't heard the baby, he was furious when everyone shut up and stared as soon as Jamie Lin quieted. That meant they were aware of her crying enough to notice when it stopped. That meant they had ignored his goddaughter's cries. Intentionally.
"Does someone," he began calmly in deference to the infant in his arms, "have a good explanation why all of you were ignoring this child? Not only did you pay no attention to her but you were screaming in order to be heard over her cries. Please, explain it to me. I want to understand." He waited for a reply, but none came. "You can all out yell a baby, but you can't say a word to me?"
Blue eyes swept the room, their frigid gaze offering no mercy to the ashamed group. Bjorn, Arielle's husband tried to stare back at him arrogantly, his blue eyes almost a perfect match. But Jim merely had to sense the child in his arms, exhausted from her crying and barely awake, and his glower intensified until Bjorn's eyes fell to the floor. Standing next to Bjorn was his mother. She was the proper dowager: staid but expensive navy dress, pearls around her neck, haircut and make up all appropriate to her age and status. Jim wondered what Beatrice would do if he announced that the necklace she wore was not the one her beloved husband had presented to her on their fortieth and final wedding anniversary. No, that necklace, the one with the real pearls, had been sold last year in order to pay for a trip to Monte Carlo with her "floral" guild. She had managed to win enough to pay for the necklace, but then lost it ten times over. She had had to sell her home and that-- not the anticipated arrival of her grandchild-- was why she was in England on an "extended" vacation. The knowledge was enough to make Jim grin and as soon as she saw the smile, Beatrice knew she had lost some unknown battle and she too dropped her defiant gaze.
Arielle, however, proved not to be a challenge at all. Her eyes already refused to meet her brother's and that was something Jim could not accept. Arielle always gave as good as she got. Sure, she was petite, barely making the Army's height requirement but she had more guts and heart than men twice her size or more. Yet, here she was, cowering before him-- much as she had probably cowered before her father and brothers. Jim's heart broke. "Sprite," he called and held out his free arm.
With a sob she flung herself against him and he valiantly tried to comfort her properly while holding on to Jamie Lin, but even a Sentinel had his limits and he knew he had to make a decision. "Sprite," he said, easing away from her, "hold on for one minute."
She jerked back and raised her hands to scrub at the tears on her face. "I'm sorry, James. I didn't mean to fall apart like that. I don't know what hap--" She stopped as he laid a finger gently across her mouth.
I had been watching all of this from the vestibule, ready to head for cover if Jim exploded, and now I stepped forward. "Jamie, lass," Jim crooned to the baby who opened her eyes sleepily. "This is your uncle Blair. He's my best friend and I trust him with all that's precious to me. Would you mind if he held you for a short bit while I take care of your mommy? I know he's a little funny looking, but see those curls around his face? If you tug on them, he makes a nice squawking sound."
Gee, thanks, Jim. I quickly brushed back a few escaping tendrils before reaching out for the baby. She made a little cooing sound as Jim released her. "It's okay, lass. He won't drop you. You just sleep, okay?" The baby yawned and Jim looked at me. "Everybody comfortable?"
I sat gingerly in a nearby chair and stared at the bundle Jim had entrusted to me. "We'll be okay, man. We won't move, but we'll be okay." I gulped as the infant shifted in her sleep. Instead of teasing Jim about the baby book, I should have been borrowing it.
Jim nodded, then turned back to Arielle and lifted her up in his arms. When she would have protested, he stopped her with a warning glance and she obediently relaxed and dropped her head against his chest. He looked around and saw one of the maids peeking around a corner. "Show me to my room," he ordered and she hurried to do his bidding.
I tried to ignore the furious whispering going on between the two remaining household members in the room. Although I could understand only a little as they conversed in their native language, I knew Beatrice was demanding her son do something about the American brute who had barged into his house. Being a nice man who really didn't care much for violence, I figured a word of caution might be appropriate at this time. "Uh, madam, your son did the right thing."
She looked at me arrogantly, six-foot Amazon that she was. "By letting a stranger commandeer his daughter and carry his wife off to his bed?"
Well, put that way... "Jim, er, James is not a stranger. He's Arielle's brother."
"Don't be foolish, little man. He can't be."
"Why can't he be? After all, he's my brother too," I asserted.
"You Americans are crazy!" she spat out, then glared at her son. "You should have married your own kind!"
I considered how offended I should be. Was she making a general slur against Americans or was it a racial remark because of Arielle's Oriental heritage? The first I could laugh at and ignore. The second... If her reasoning was racially motivated, I would let James handle the matter-- without any interference. "Bjorn, man," I said in a friendly manner. "I seriously suggest you keep your mother away from James. His isn't in the best of moods, in case you haven't realized that. He sort of takes it personally when he thinks the people he loves are being abused."
"I have abused no one," Bjorn said angrily, his eyes cutting into me.
But I merely shrugged at the pale imitation of Jim. Pale imitation of Jim... Whoa. Definitely not going there. "I'm not the one you have to convince, man."
"My son has to convince no one of anything. Who is this James and why does he think he is so important?" Beatrice asked.
"Let it go, Mama," Bjorn said. As a scientist at the Family's Antarctica facility, he had heard of the Elder's ruthless reputation. In fact, several of his colleagues had asked about his mental state when they learned he was going to marry Arielle. Marry the Elder's sister? Are you nuts? Has the cold frozen your brain? But he had only seen the opportunities. To have a wife who would not constantly nag him to stay out of the lab, who would not care that his discoveries would never win a Nobel prize or fame and fortune. And yes, he loved Arielle. There was that too.
"I will not let it go, Bjorn. Why are you listening to this little man? I did not raise you this way."
I was getting awfully tired of this woman calling me "little man" and if I hadn't been holding the baby, I may have been tempted to put her in her place. Being a teacher, I had faced rougher crowds than her and made them understand who controlled a room. Besides, I was practically a member of the Major Crimes Unit, Cascade P.D. and respect, damn it, was our middle name. "Listen, lady," I hissed. "James Ellison is not only your son's boss, but he happens to own this house you so graciously call your son's. You can stand there and bitch-- I see you understand the term-- and cost your son his career and his family or you can do as he says and back off."
She looked quickly at her son and for once, his steely glance actually worked. With a huff, she marched out of the room. Bjorn watched her leave, then flicked his attention back to me. "I will fight to keep my family."
"Good for you, man," I said. "But you and I both know the choice isn't yours."
I shook my head at the leaving man. I had hated saying that. It was pretty obvious Bjorn wasn't an abuser and that whatever was going in the castle was more of an aberration than the norm. Babies often upset a household for a while, interrupting sleep patterns and shifting balances of love and attention. The man was probably no more responsible than Jamie Lin was. But, if Jim decided that Arielle and her daughter were better off without Bjorn... bye-bye, Bjorn.
Now, I wasn't saying Jim would be in the right; no one should interfere with a husband and wife unless there was danger in continuing the relationship. But the simple truth of the matter was that Arielle would inevitably side with whatever Jim said. She adored James, had married a man similar to him, and had named her firstborn after him. And James felt the same way. Juliette, the sister who had been so obsessed with the Elder that she had tried to kill Father and then killed herself, had seen it. First, she had assigned Arielle to the South Pole to get her away from James, then she had ranted and raved about Arielle as her madness grew. The only two who didn't realize the depth of devotion between the Elder and the head of European operations was James and Arielle.
Of course, it hadn't been James or Jim who had carried Arielle off to the safety of his room. That had been the Sentinel, acting upon the ancient instinct of putting those he protected under his direct aegis. Where had the Sentinel put his Guide? And when the Watcher was involved, where did we meet? Simon thought the loft was just a convenience because his place was farther from the station, but I had realized during one of our impromptu strategy sessions that Jim was only truly comfortable in two places: the loft and the police station-- his personal fortresses.
Here in a foreign country the Sentinel had designated his room fortress du jour and had taken Arielle there. As soon as he settled things with her he would be back for his Guide and his... his what? I stared at the baby in my arms. Where do you fit into our universe, little one? I've seen Jim with kids before, but he's never had the look in his eyes that he had when he entrusted you into my care.
Jamie Lin's eyes popped open and I was startled to see they were blue, contrasting heavily with her Asian features. There was a chance, however, that they would darken as she got older and if not, Mother Nature would be just showing once again that despite human devotion to genetic order, she did whatever she wanted to. I was even more startled when I realized Jamie Lin just hadn't opened her eyes, but was intently gazing at me. "Hello, Jamie Lin. I'm Uncle Blair, remember?" I asked as I brushed a hand against her delicate cheek.
The baby grabbed one of my fingers. I know who you are.
Okay, I see the pity in your face. You're thinking a fear of teddy bears isn't my only problem, right? A six-week old infant talking to me does sound a little "out there". I'll freely admit to that. But she really wasn't "speaking" to me. I know that. It was more of a telepathic impression. Honest. Please, bear with me for a while longer and you'll see... Oh, sorry. No pun intended...
I jerked my head around, looking for someone else in the room. But no one was nearby and I shook my head, wondering if the long flight was getting to me. How many time zones had I gone through? What altitudes had we reached? Apparently the combination was causing voices in my head. Maybe I should have stayed home.
No. You are to be with him. As I will one day.
I reluctantly looked at the infant, who was still staring at me. No. That was impossible, wasn't it? I shrugged and tried to send her a telepathic message. Who are you?
I am not his enemy. I am like you. I will protect him and guide him.
I paled. Forget the fact the baby was talking. What was she saying? You are my replacement?
I am your supplement. Together you and I will help him fulfill his destiny. There is another also.
Yes, the Watcher. I look forward to meeting him.
Oh, yeah. He's going to be thrilled to meet you too. I grimaced, knowing how Simon felt about these odd quirks that appeared in our lives. By the way, who will he be meeting?
Jamie Lin, silly uncle.
What are you?
Should I be insulted?
I sighed. Just what our team needed-- another smart ass. Sentinel, Guide, Watcher...
The baby's eyes scrunched up as she thought. Adept. That's has a nice rhythm, doesn't it? Sentinel, Guide, Watcher, Adept.
Adept, as in an expert witch?
Be nice. I prefer sorceress as you prefer shaman to witchdoctor.
Score one for the sorceress. I didn't know anyone else knew that when I was named shaman, Jim's original words had come back to haunt me. You sound as if you've done this before, Jamie Lin.
Many times. I always hate the beginnings. It's difficult to communicate as a baby.
You don't seem to be having a problem this time.
I know. I usually work alone. I've never had anyone to link to like this. That's why I can't wait until I'm old enough to take my place in the Family.
I was puzzled. Wait a minute. This has to do with the Family? I thought you were here for the Sentinel.
There is no difference. Uncle James is the Sentinel. He is the Family. You are the Family. I am the Family.
But Simon isn't.
He will be.
"Sandburg, are you sitting there having a staring contest with a baby? I heard your heartbeat spike and I come in here thinking the Swedes are tag-teaming you. But it's just you and Jamie Lin looking deeply into each other's eyes." Jim frowned and clamped down on my shoulder. "Forget it. There's too much of an age difference."
"Ha, ha, Jim. You're so funny," I said dryly. "If you only knew--" I stopped and looked at the baby in my arms who merely blinked and innocently pursed her lips. How in the world was I going to tell Jim that this sweet little child was anything but? That I'd had a lengthy discussion with the tiny witch--
I glanced up to see if Jim had picked up on the telepathic message but my partner just looked at me impatiently. "If I only knew what, Chief?"
"Never mind. How's Arielle?"
"Sleeping. I've been talking to the staff around here. Seems the wee lass you're holding has been keeping people awake. All night long for the past week. What everyone needs is a good rest. So I've decided to send Arielle and Bjorn to a nice bed and breakfast for a couple days, the mother-in-law back to Sweden for the two days or forever-- whichever Arielle prefers-- and the entire staff will also be given the time off. I have one of the Family assistants taking care of it for me."
"What about the nanny?"
"Out of here."
"And Jamie Lin?"
Jim reached down to scoop the baby out of my arms. "Her uncles are going to take care of her."
"Uh, Jim, is that wise? We're sort of new to the taking-care-of-baby club." Especially a baby like this one.
Jim grinned. "Speak for yourself, Sandburg. I've been taking care of you for years."
"This James side of you is a real laugh riot, Jim," I commented acridly. "Do you even know how to change a diaper?"
Jim could sense that I was being serious and he became so too. "I had a younger brother while growing up, remember? Sometimes when Sally needed help, I pitched in."
"That was sweet of you, Jim." Sally was the Ellison family housekeeper. In fact she still worked for Jim's father.
"Well, someone had to help her out and I knew it wouldn't be Mom or Dad." I saw his jaw start to tense as it usually did when he remembered his parents. My mom may have been a flake, but at least I had been sure of her love. Then Jamie Lin batted him with her small fist and he smiled down at her, his face relaxing."The three of us will be fine, Chief."
That's right, Uncle Chief. We'll be fine.
I swallowed hard and followed my partner up the stairs.
Two hours later I could hear Jim arguing softly with Arielle in the bedroom.
The Elder's room was in actuality a suite that was larger than the loft. A huge salon with a fireplace was completely separate from the bedroom and dressing area. Jamie Lin lay in her bassinet in between two sofas. Up until five minutes ago, I had been sprawled across one of them and Jim the other. But the Sentinel had heard Arielle stirring and decided to tell her of the plans he'd made while she napped. Apparently, the rest had done her some good because she was no longer meekly doing as he asked.
Mom's a bit slow.
I started to open my mouth to reply, but then realized Jim would hear me no matter how softly I spoke. Although this telepathy business was belatedly creeping me out, I knew it was the way it had to be done. Don't talk about your mother that way.
A baby-sized sigh. Yes, sir. But she should know by now she won't win an argument with him. Besides, his suggestion is for her own good.
I peered over the edge of the bassinet, starting to understand this strange creature. You set this up, didn't you? You cried your little head off until you drove your mother to call for help.
Hey, I'm a baby. I have to work with what I got.
You're not a baby. You're an imp.
Say that after you change my diaper.
I'm not changing your diaper.
Of course you are. You know how sensitive Uncle James is. Take care of your Sentinel, Guide.
And proud of it.
I looked around the room for a diaper bag. Must be in the nursery. Come on. I have to take you to your room.
No! I hate that place!
"What's going on in here?" Jim asked, hurrying into the room.
"Jamie Lin needs to be changed. I was going to take her to the nursery--"
"No, she's hates that room," Jim said authoritatively. "I was going to go there later and drag her stuff here. May as well do it now. Come on, Arielle. Show me what I need to take care of the baby while you're gone."
"I told you I'm not going anywhere, James. I sort of lost it there for a while, but you were right; a nap was exactly what I needed. I feel much better now."
"And you will feel even better two days from now. The reservations have been made. The car is waiting out front. Go."
Arielle crossed her arms stubbornly. "I don't want you to think I don't appreciate the fact that you dropped everything to come rushing across a continent and an ocean to take care of me. But I'm perfectly capable of taking care of things on my own, James. I just... I don't know. I just needed a few hours to myself, I guess. And you gave them to me. That's enough."
Jim took a deep breath and let it out slowly. I had taught him that. "Listen to me, sprite. I'm going to be completely honest with you," he said earnestly. "You. Scared. Me. Do you understand? I don't ever want you to sound like you did on the phone, okay? Please, if not for your own peace of mind, then for mine-- go, rest, pull yourself together."
Black eyes sought blue ones and saw the fear that still resided there. Arielle nodded slowly. "We don't have to take Beatrice with us, do we?" she asked as she led Jim to the nursery.
Told you she wouldn't win. Now, about that diaper change...
See? Now do you understand about the baby and how it was that she talked inside my head? Good. You appeared to be one of the more intelligent of our species and I knew you were open-minded enough to accept that a witch, excuse me, an adept has become a part of my increasingly bizarre universe. It happens in the best of families I'm sure.
Stop it! Stop pointing at the bear! I'm coming to that now...
"So, Jamie lass, they tell me this is the most expensive toy store in the world," Jim said as he climbed out of the limo with the baby in front of F.A.O. Schwartz's. "Maybe we should ask Uncle Blair if he brought along his wallet."
"And maybe you should ask the driver where the local version of Wal-mart is," I said as I followed the pair inside. As a manager hurried to Jim's aid, having seen us climbing out of a limo, I looked around excitedly. I had passed by the toy stores before, but had never stepped foot inside one. For all my impracticalness (at least according to Jim), I was a practical person and had known I would never be able to afford anything inside. So I had limited myself to a hasty glance in passing and that was that. Actually, I hadn't had a lot of toys during my childhood. My mother and I were on the move too much to be bogged down with toys and other non-essentials.
"I think we'd like to look at stuffed animals, isn't that right, Jamie Lin?" Jim was saying and the manager eagerly led the way to what easily could have been a zoo if the animals hadn't been of the fake variety.
Then again, I thought as I glimpsed a price tag, the zoo probably hadn't spent as much money on their purchases. "Are these all child certified?" I asked the manager who obviously smelled a big sale.
"Of course. No loose eyes or pieces, perfectly suited for a child of any age," he said imperiously, apparently affronted by the question. Deeming me addlebrained, he concentrated on Jim and Jamie Lin. "Do you know what your daughter is looking for?"
I watched Jim debate whether to correct the salesman, but he was a private man and obviously figured his relationship with Jamie Lin was nobody's business. "She'll let us know when she sees it."
I nodded distractedly as the words brought to mind a conversation I'd had with Jamie Lin earlier in the day. Jim had just come back from getting something from the nursery and I had casually asked him how he had known Jamie Lin hated the nursery. Jim had frowned, then shrugged. I was just getting ready to press him when the baby had interrupted.
Leave him alone.
You talk to him like you talk to me, don't you?
Don't tell him you talk to me.
Why not? It's not like he can't hear you too.
You push him too hard.
I what? Now, I was prepared to accept advice from this "adept". She had been around a lot longer than I , probably knew more about Sentinels than I would ever discover. But she was stepping into friendship territory now.
You always want him to admit to things he's not comfortable with. That's not good.
And denial is?
As long as it doesn't get in the way of him doing what he has to do, it is acceptable. He is not like you, Uncle Blair. He was not raised the same way you were. Your mother believes in psychics and levitation. Therefore, you have a new experience and you say, "Cool". Uncle James' father made him feel like a freak because he could see and hear what others couldn't. Yet, you think it's strange that now he has problems admitting that he hears me in his head. He's doing the best he can. Our job is to support him until he is ready to accept what is real.
"Wow. Would you look at that, Chief?"
My thoughts came back to the toy store to see Jim pointing at a five-foot tall black panther. It was such a true replica of Jim's spirit guide that for a moment, it appeared the animal was breathing, his eyes alive and wary. Then Jamie Lin cooed, distracting my attention. When I looked back, the stuffed animal was just a stuffed animal and the manager was already getting him ready for the sale.
Because I really didn't want to know how much the panther cost, I drifted off into another part of the store as Jim took care of business. I found myself in front of the electric trains and I stood there lost in their movements for a while, feeling a certain peace as the trains followed their tracks in and out of tunnels and across bridges. It was all oddly hypnotic and I felt a smile decorate my face as I watched them.
"Blair, if you don't stop zoning, I'm going to take you to see Dr. C. when we get home," Jim whispered in my ear. "First, it was you and the baby. Now, it's you and the trains. What's going on in that head of yours?"
I smiled. "Nothing's wrong, Jim. Just remembering how I liked watching the trains when I was young. One of Naomi's friends had a house near a train track. Me and his kids used to watch them going by and pretend we were on them, off to see the world, I guess."
"Well, at least one of you did."
I nodded, wondering about those old acquaintances and what had happened to them. They had envied me because I was always on the move. I had envied them because they had a home. I looked at Jim who was holding Jamie Lin and a medium-sized brown bear. "Where's the panther?"
"In the car, where we should be." Five minutes later, the baby was secure in her carseat, her hand brushing against the panther in the seat beside her. "We were looking for you when she saw this bear and had to have it," Jim continued. "It's real mink," he said, absently stroking the fur.
"You bought a baby a mink teddy bear?"
"You sound like the manager. He said that it wasn't exactly for a baby. Most people buy it for their sweethearts, a great Valentine or 'forgive me' gift. I told him Jamie Lin was my sweetheart and since I had to leave her tomorrow, I probably needed a 'forgive me' gift."
"You're spoiling her."
"Do you know why?" What exactly was the little witch up to?
Stop being so cynical, Uncle Blair. I would not manipulate him. He is why I am here. His purpose far outweighs mine.
Jim reached over and smoothed Jamie Lin's dark hair. The baby turned from the panther and batted her eyes at him. "Every baby deserves to be spoiled by someone."
"And you're volunteering for the job?"
He nodded. "She's special, Chief."
That was an understatement. "You usually don't give your heart away so easily, Jim," I cautioned, glad that we were alone in the back of the car. William was up front with the driver and Eric was in a chase car. Ah, the Family life.
"You sound as if you think Jamie Lin is dangerous, Chief. She's not."
"You're sure of that?" It was one thing for Jim to be aware of what was going on and pretend ignorance; it was another if he was truly ignorant.
Three pairs of blue eyes consulted each other. "I'm positive she's not dangerous to me or to those I care about," Jim said, confirming his knowledge of the adept. "But then, that's all I can say about myself as well."
"Okay, Jim. I'll take your word for it," I said, ending the subject for the moment. "Since we're here in London, would you mind if we stopped by this tiny museum near..."
Good morning, Uncle Blair.
I sat straight up in bed as the voice invaded my mind. I turned my head and saw the bassinet parked beside me. Don't tell me you're into teleportation too?
Uncle James put me here. He's going to the nursery to find out why I hate it. He didn't want to leave me alone so he brought me in here. He likes having all his possessions close together. I had no objections. I thought you probably wanted to talk before my parents got home anyway.
I yawned, not liking that she seemed to know me so well. Why would I want to talk to you?
Because I have such a nice personality?
I laughed and adjusted my pillows. What's wrong with the nursery anyway?
I don't know. It doesn't "feel" right. If Uncle James can't find anything wrong, I'm going to have to keep his rooms. I don't mind sharing.
You'll feel different about that when you're seventeen.
I won't be living here when I'm seventeen.
Where will you be?
In Cascade with you and Uncle James.
I rolled my eyes. Me and Jim and seventeen-year-old femme fatale? Only if Cascade got rid of all its teenage boys. Then it hit me what she had said. You know the future?
Only my own. And of course, all my pasts.
Been around for a while, have you? You want up?
I lifted her into my arms. Looking at her, it was hard to imagine her as a part of the dangerous world of Sentinels and Guides. Have you met other Sentinels?
Too bad I can't interview you for my paper.
About that paper, Uncle Blair... If you're really determined to do your dissertation on Sentinels, you're going to have to find another subject to study unless you want skewed results.
What are you talking about? Jim is a Sentinel.
No. Uncle James is the Sentinel. He's not like the others.
What do you mean? He has all five senses. Believe me, I've tested them all.
You don't understand. He is not a lesser Sentinel. He is greater.
What the... No. I wouldn't curse when talking to a child-- even one as unorthodox as Jamie Lin. What do you mean by greater? And earlier you mentioned something about his purpose outweighing yours?
Things I know, Uncle Blair, and things you will eventually learn. Be patient. All will be revealed as it has been destined.
There was a tap at the door, then Jim entered. "Morning, Chief." He looked at the child in my arms. "And you say I spoil her. Come on, Jamie Lin. We need to let Uncle Blair get dressed. Your parents will be back soon and we have to get to the airport." He held the child up against his shoulder. "And I found out why you don't like the nursery. There are drafts coming from the ceiling. Probably keep you awake all night long. We'll get that fixed, okay?"
The baby sighed. Knew he would make it better. But that's what he does best, is it not?
I looked at Jim and saw he wasn't reacting to the baby's thoughts. He can hear you when you focus on him and I can hear you when you focus on me, but he can't hear us, can he?
No yet. But one day you will teach him how.
Oh, I will?
Yes. It is your duty to guide him in the use of his senses.
And what is your duty?
To guide him in other ways.
So there you have it. That's how a simple errand of mercy, an answer to a sister's distress call, has added another dimension to what Jim's mockingly refers to as "the Sandburg Zone". What is Jamie Lin's purpose and what were all those oblique references to the future, like living here with us in Cascade and Jim being a greater Sentinel? Oh, and we mustn't forget the real kicker-- Simon becoming part of the Family. When will all this happen and what does it mean?
Why are you frowning at me? I know you must have questions too... Oh. The bear. That's right. You wanted to know about the teddy bear. Jim found it in his bag when we got home a week ago. He swears he doesn't know how it got in there, but he's not too concerned. Says we can give it back to Jamie Lin when we go to the christening. It won't do any good though. It will just wind up in his bag again. How do I know that? Uh, well, that's sort of why I'm ambivalent about the thing.
Jim had tossed the bear onto the sofa and that's where it has sat, basically ruling over the loft for the past week. But the poker game is being held here tonight and well, if a teddy bear is found in the place, everyone will assume (or pretend to assume) it belongs to me. I think I'm teased enough as it is, so while Jim went out to pick up some extra snacks, I thought I would take the bear up to his room-- sacred haven that it is. But when I reached for the teddy bear...
So you see, that's why I'm here and teddy is over there. And if the guys from the station arrive before Jim gets back, well, what's a little teasing among friends?